Design and Determination: the role of information technology in redressing regional inequities in the development process

Ashgate Publishing, Aldershot.

Part I
Design and Development: the worlds we live in

Five chapters form the first part of this book which explores our current situation. They deal with the nature and opportunities of a network form of globalisation which places information and communication technologies at the centre of the process.

The current role of information and communication technologies can be traced to decisive events of the Pacific War. In 1941 the large scale deployment of naval aviation in the attack on Pearl Harbor represented the assimilation of Western technology and strategy - military and industrial - by Japan. The Imperial Japanese Navy had already demonstrated its competence in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904, but military success against the United States and Britain in 1941 and 1942 came as a shock. The subsequent U.S. victory at Midway was engineered through the use of information technology - code-breaking of intercepted communications. These two events foreshadowed two shifts in the centre of gravity of global development. The first was the shift of attention to the Pacific Basin for the remainder of the twentieth century. The second shift was that of information and communication technologies to their central role. Derived from the requirements of the Second World War these became and remain the key technologies of economic globalisation.

The military determination of the development paths of advanced technologies in the crucial Second World War period and beyond is returned to Part II.

Chapter 1: Design and Determination: overcoming exclusion in an emergent global system

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An overview of the purpose and structure of the book, in particular its relationship to the globalisation literature, including recent work by Peter Dicken and Manuel Castells. This locates information and communication technologies at the centre of developments in the global economy. It also emphasises the partial nature of this system and places it in a broader historical context.

The relationship between new information technologies, globalisation and social exclusion has become a focus for discussion amongst the major social theorists of the contemporary period (Castells, 1996, 1997, 2000; Giddens, 1999, Ohmae, 1995). Most take the shape of the technology and its social organisation within a neo-liberal economic framework as unproblematic

The "big design" of high technology systems determines the audience and the terms of access to a global discourse. The developed economies dominate the direction of development in these technologies. However, within the new connectivities and adjacencies delivered by the same technologies, small, collective, distributed design is providing a voice from those left outside the formal hierarchy of distribution. High technology - in a literal sense in the case of satellite based communication - is providing the last crucial link in connectivity. Global access is provided by a technology originally associated with top down surveillance and the Cold War military history of the space race and satellite development. The wired world can now be joined to the unwired world in a way which removes the significance of spatial separation, through access to the information infrastructure critical to the functioning of the emerging global economy.

This book provides examples of the use of big technology by and for those assumed to be the objects of an electronic panopticon. It examines how "small design" has in some cases reversed that panopticon.

Central AustraliaSchiphol Airport Hong Kong

Chapter 2: Chains, Networks, Webs: the topology and geography of a global system of development

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Chapter 2 examines the continuities and discontinuities inherent in the current dynamics of global development.

Shifts in the prevailing view of the global chain of production and consumption are discussed. The development of international trade as a series of flows between centre and periphery, followed by the development of multi-domestic production close to markets is discussed. The subsequent emergence of more global strategies involving trans-national production networks is described.

The shift in characterisations of the multinational company by both proponents and critics is plotted from the seventies to the nineties. The characteristics of the "new" multinational corporations and the emergence of production webs and networks are described. These have blurred the distinction between centre and periphery. Current relationships are contrasted with the more orderly flows of technology from centre to periphery associated with earlier models of multinational development and technology transfer.

The dominant role of the "triad" formed by the developed regions of North America, North West Europe and North East Asia within the world economy is introduced. The locational consequences for investment and economic activity are examined, along with the new forms of "periphery", no longer necessarily physically separated from the core. New forms of exclusion are examined, in particular, the problematic promotion of what Kenichi Ohmae terms zebra strategies. These are directed at only the strongest parts of a regional economy, in order to create sufficient levels of formal economic activity for inclusion in the wider system. The consequences of such strategies for both inclusion and exclusion and for economic and social equity are raised.

Expressway, South China Trans-Australian railwayBudget ailine

Chapter 3: Wicked Problems and Evil Empires: postivism, complexity and the cold War origins of the information society

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This chapter links the emergence of computer-based information systems with the theoretical underpinnings of modernism and bureaucracy and offered a non-place definition of community and association. Modernism and related theories from architecture and planning are examined and an alignment between the information infrastructure of the current form of globalisation and both the physical infrastructure of urban development and industrialisation and the institutional infrastructure of the nation state is described.

The integral role of information and communication technologies in current changes is emphasised through reference to earlier work. The continuity of technocratic positivism, from the first half of the twentieth century to the first decade of the twenty-first is traced. The "wicked" nature of socio-technical problems as defined by Horst Rittel and Webber is used to enter the debates around the social shaping of technology. A path which avoids the post-modernist cul de sac is sought through critical information systems design methods.

Satellite connection, Ghana

Chapter 4: : Virtual Working: public and private place and non-place

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The diffusion of state power through agreement to and participation in multilateral regulation in areas such as trade, security and environment has been matched by the emergence of trans-national corporations operating in internationalised financial and labour markets. These changes impact not only at national and sub-national levels, but increasingly flow through to the individual household. This chapter considers the impact on the household and local community of the increasing porosity of national boundaries.

The coalescence of communication and computing technologies has transformed government attitudes to communication infrastructure. The national missions of the traditional common carriers of goods and information, focussed on equity of access, have been replaced by the pursuit of commercial opportunities. The informal replacement of national broadcasters by extraterritorial organisations using direct satellite broadcasting has taken place in parallel with telecommunications deregulation. Acceptance of a neo-liberal frame eclipses the ability of national governments to form and control key areas of policy for technologies which impact on both urban and rural infrastructure and has created a new tension between space and place.

Non-place definitions of community and of citizenship are introduced as a means of understanding the challenge presented by these changes.

Chapter 5: Windows of Opportunity: supporting development with appropriate technologies or appropriated technologies?

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Chapter 5 introduces the concept of "windows of opportunity" and the possibility of the appropriation of technologies by the mariginalised. It has been demonstrated that a process of organisational learning is needed to move beyond the technical effects of direct substitution of information technology for manual processes (Zuboff, 1988; Sproull and Kiesler, 1991). The social learning curves associated with the introduction of new electrically-based technologies at the turn of the last century have been described by Marvin (1988). Consensus over the value and application of these technologies emerge only after considerable debate. An agreed paradigm for the rapidly succeeding generations of information and communication technologies being deployed in the current wave of globalisation cannot be expected to emerge without equivalent debate and contestation. Developing regions need some window of opportunity through which to gain access to and influence in such debates.

The metaphor originated in a study of the impact of relatively simple bulletin board technology on a group of users with disabilities whose special needs highlights the need of peripheral users to appropriate features of mainstream technical developments as far as possible (Earls, 1991). Nineteen-eighties bulletin board technology allowed these users to participate in an electronic community which was unaware of their considerable physical disabilities. The volunteer student cohort who participated developed fruitful and co-operative relationships with a number of individuals, without the preconceptions that would have influenced face to face interaction.

Despite the falling costs and growing flexibility of computer technology there remains a need to identify and exploit equivalent windows of opportunity presented by mainstream technology. Current examples of the use of web-based technologies show that the paradigm remains relevant.

It will be argued that access to state of the art technology is necessary for full participation in the global economy, but access alone is no guarantee of its appropriate or effective use. The use of technology, rather than the technology itself is the key to appropriateness, and to sustainable voices from the margins in virtual social and political spaces. However, the huge and diverse range of potential users is inevitably segmented organisationally and culturally. It requires an adequate fit to a wide variety of specific needs and the capacity for adjustment to continuing developments. These need to be informed by social and organisational learning, over considerable time.

South African distribution Indian cell phone marketMacao 1998

 

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